Last night’s episode of Mad Men, “Dark Shadows” was a pretty minor effort from the writers behind the AMC drama, but still – even when Mad Men isn’t running on all cylinders, it’s light years ahead of the show. This particular episode brings back Betty (January Jones) to the fold, as she dominates the episode. Also we’re getting to see a growing jealousy from Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) over the prodigiously talented ad man, Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman). Jane Sterling (Peyton List) makes an appearance, too as Roger (John Slattery) asks his soon-to-be exwife to be his arm candy to impress the execs of Maneschewitz. And family secrets come spilling out and Megan (Jessica Pare) and Sally (Kiernan Shipka) square off.
The main story involves Betty’s attempts at weight loss, while contending with her general ennui. Her marriage to Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) is seemingly ideal, but Betty’s impulses and addiction to drama guarantees some blow up. And let’s face it: Betty likes to stir the shit.
So, Betty’s been going to Weight Watchers and weighing her food, and spouting some of the self-help pop psychology she’s been fed at her meetings. Of course, this stable, reasonable Betty is just a ruse. After picking up the kids from Don’s and Megan’s apartment she feels incredibly inadequate and frustrated – it doesn’t help that the newly zaftig Mrs. Francis caught a glimpse of the nubile Megan in just a bra. To add to all this, Betty discovers a simple love note to Megan, scrawled on one of Bobby’s drawings. Looking archly at her daughter who is working on a family tree she casually mentions Anna Draper (!). She prods Sally to ask her stepmother about Anna, feigning nonchalance.
Sally, of course, feels betrayed by Megan and starts to act like a snotty brat in response. Megan gives just enough information, but insists she talks to daddy Don about it. Sally by this point is completely Betty’s daughter: bratty, bitchy and manipulative. Megan and Don talk this through and he decides to talk to Sally a little bit more. In Don’s case that means being blustery and Stonewally, and just saying vaguely that he married Anna to “help her out.” Sally, of course, gets her last dig: when Betty casually asks her about Don, Megan and Anna, Sally replies that the three talked about the late Mrs. Draper warmly and shared pictures and had a lovely time. This of course was totally opposite of what Betty wanted and like a kid she knocks a box of cereal off the table in petulant anger.
At the office Don’s dealing with his gradual loss of his “thing” – his ability to create brilliant copy. Peggy’s been off her game lately as well. The two’s increasing decrease in productivity has been noticeable, and Michael Ginzberg’s rising star is a threat to both of them. Creating an ad campaign for Snow Cone, Peggy thinks up a just okay idea of having a guy crawl through the desert on his belly, dying of thirst; Don creates a terrible idea involving the devil, complete with Don doing a “funny” voice (I never want to see that again); and Michael thinks up the best idea – having figures of authority being pelted by a snow ball. Don’s unwilling to just let his idea die, and no one in the office is willing to let him know it’s mediocre. So both ideas are planned to be presented to the Snow Cone folks.
Except Don being Don, he “forgets” Michael’s copy in a cab, and Snow Cone buys Don’s idea. Michael’s pissed and confronts Don in the elevator. The two exchange tense, terse words, before Michael says, “I feel sorry for you” – of course, we don’t buy it – Michael’s feeling sorry for himself, but thinks he’ll appear the bigger man. Again Don being Don, he simply says, “I don’t think of you at all.”
Peggy meanwhile is smarting from Roger’s hiring of Michael to create some ideas for Manischewitz. She has her own confrontation with a superior in an elevator. She insists that his hiring of Michael was disloyal. Roger being Roger doesn’t “get” Peggy’s offense and insists that he hired Michael because it was Manischewitz (by the way, Roger’s blithe anti-Semitism is getting a bit tired at this point). Peggy’s given a nifty retort when she points out that she worked on the Mohawk airlines campaign, but isn’t an airplane. Her resentment of Michael is abated though, when she learns of Don’s faked whoopsidoo, and she smirks when she sees just how apoplectic Michael becomes. It’s not a pretty side to Betty and it’s not one I’d care to see again.
While all this is going down, Roger’s having his own personal crisis with Jane. The divorce is going to be ugly – and not in the funny, sitcommy, “wife is bleeding husband dry with alimony” but emotionally ugly. Since Roger’s the one that’s initiating the divorce, Jane’s still wounded. The gorgeous Manhattan apartment has become a mausoleum of sorts of their failed marriage, and she wants out. In exchange for being the perfect Jewish wife, she bargains for a new apartment. At the dinner with the Manischewitz folks, the exec’s handsome, young son stops by and flirts with Jane. Roger gets jealous. The two meet at Jane’s new pad, and they have sex. The next day, Jane looks despondent as Roger leaves for work. He doesn’t realize that because they had sex in her new apartment, she now has to live with painful memories in her new place as well. Roger for once, realizes he can be a real shit, leaves equally bummed.
While Don and Peggy have to watch out for Michael nipping at his heels, Roger’s still dealing with Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) circling around his job like a hungry shark. If only Roger knew what Pete was going through in his persona life. If you remember, Pete’s masculinity and whole sense of self has been greatly eroded – this was caused by many instances in his life including getting the garbage beat out of him by Lane (Jared Harris), not being able to fix his own sink, getting upstaged by a handsome high school senior at a drivers ed class and finally by having his continuous advances spurned by a sexy, married neighbor (Alexis Bledel, aka Rory Gilmore).
Well the artist formerly known as Rory Gilmore makes a brief cameo in a dream sequence as Pete imagines a story in the New York Times earns him some points. He insists to Roger, Don and Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) that he’s the best man for a profile at the newspaper, and indulges in some self-puffery in the process. As everything in his life lately, the interview is a flop and the agency’s barely mentioned. He takes out his frustration with Don in a phone call, overheard by Sally and Bobby.
So in a nutshell, this episode seems to be about characters being envious of each other – every character seemed to covet another’s life – whether it’s Pete being jealous of his train commute buddy, Howard; Don being jealous of Michael; Peggy being jealous of Michael; Roger being jealous of Pete; Roger being jealous of Jane; Peggy being jealous of Megan; Peggy being jealous of Don;
I’m excited about the next episode because I’m wondering what’s going on with Lane’s finances – why are they in a disarray? Also Joan (Christina Hendricks) needs to be put back into the show as a major character – she had like, one line in this episode. Also, I’ll be interested in seeing what happens with Peggy and Don – will they remove their heads out of their asses for a moment and start producing the kind of work that made them the ad superstars they were in the first four seasons?